Category Archives: The Fantasy Fan

The Frost King, The Frost-Giant, and Their Daughters

It’s been bitterly cold here on the South Plains of Texas for much of the last week.  Temperatures were near record lows for several days.  Just when it looked like things were going to warm up again, we got more snow Sunday.  And that made me think of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”, which made me think of “The Frost King’s Daughter”.  And I knew what the next post on this blog would be.

The tale (or tales, if you prefer) concerns the lone survivor of a battle in the frozen north.  Having just killed the only member of the opposing army left standing, he sees a beautiful young woman wearing only a gossamer veil walking among the dead.  She taunts him with her body, and he pursues hers.  Of course, this is a trap.  After a time, she calls her brothers forth, two ice giants, to kill the man.  Instead, he defeats them, captures the girl, and is about to ravish her when she calls on her father, Ymir.  The girls is transported into the sky in a blaze of blinding light that leaves the hero unconscious.  He is awakened by a band of his allies who were delayed by an ambush.  After he tells his story, one of the older men in the group tells the warrior he saw Ymir’s daughter Atali, who haunts battlefields and lures survivors to their deaths so that she might present their hearts to her father.  The old man claims to have seen her as a youth when he was too wounded to follow her.  Everyone thinks the old man had his brains addled by a sword stroke until the hero unclenches his fist to find a veil.

This pair of stories are essentially the same, only the names have changed.  “The Frost King’s Daughter” concerns Amra of Akbitana, while the “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” is an early Conan story that was rejected by Farnsworth Wright (more on that later) and wasn’t published until the August 1953 issue of Fantasy Fiction.  Unfortunately, that version was rewritten by L. Sprague de Camp.  It wasn’t until 1976 that Howard’s version saw print in Donald M. Grant’s Rogues in the House.  This was a hardback collectible volume, not a mass market edition.  “The Frost King’s Daughter”, on the other hand, was published in the March 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan.  You probably couldn’t afford an original copy of that little fan publication, provided you could find one.  Fortunately, the entire run has been reprinted in facsimile (details on how to order are here.)

The first mass market publication of Howard’s original version of “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” wasn’t available until 1989, when both stories were printed side-by-side in Karl Edward Wagner’s Echoes of Valor II.  If you aren’t familiar with the series, it ran to three volumes (as far as I know; if there was a fourth I missed it).  Wagner, a fan and writer of sword and sorcery who deserves to be better remembered, compiled collections of rare heroic fiction.  While many of the stories Wagner selected have been reprinted in recent years, especially the Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore pieces, there are still some tales that haven’t seen the light of day since and make the volumes worth seeking out.

In his introduction, Wagner states that Howard wrote “The Frost King’s Daughter” first and that the Conan version, “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” was the rewrite.  How he knows this to be true, Wagner doesn’t exactly say.  He supports his case by saying that “The Phoenix on the Sword” was a rewrite of the Kull story “By This Axe I Rule” (documentably true), and that “Frost-Giant” was a rewrite of “Frost King”.  We know Howard would recycle stories if they didn’t sell, at times changing the names of major characters, and we also know that sometimes the details of his stories would change from one draft to the next.  Furthermore, there is evidence that Howard was still developing the character of Conan as well as the Hyborian Age for the first several Conan stories.  Patrice Louinet, in his essay “Hyborian Genesis” (The Coming of Conan), does a thorough job of showing this development.

And here we encounter a small problem.  Louinet suggests that Howard changed the title of the story and Conan’s name to Amra when he sent the story to The Fantasy Fan.  His evidence seems to be the publication date of “Frost King” as well as an unreferenced letter from Howard to Charles D. Hornig, editor of The Fantasy Fan.  Patrice Louinet is one of the leaders in the field of contemporary Howard scholarship.  Wagner was one of the foremost authorities of his day.  So who is correct?  Was “Frost King” the rewrite, or was “Frost-Giant”?

As far as their respective texts are concerned the stories are almost identical.  I compared them, and there was only one significant deviation I found.  This one:

“Far have I wandered, from Zingara to the Sea of Vilayet, in Stygia and Kush and the country of the Hyrkanians; but a woman like you I have never seen.”

So who do you think said this, Conan or Amra?  Based on the place names, which are the settings of other Conan stories, you would probably think Conan, right?

Well, you would be wrong.  Amra said this.  In the Conan version of the story (Frost-Giant), the wording is “Far have I wandered, but a woman like you I have never seen.”  Conan’s wanderings and the Hyborian geography are never mentioned.  The only reason that I can think of for Howard to add place names from the Conan stories to a rewrite of a Conan story in which he changes the name and nationality of the viewpoint character is to clue readers in that Amra is really Conan.  And since it had been established by the time “Gods of the North” AKA “The Frost King’s Daughter” was published in The Fantasy Fan that Amra was one of the names Conan was known by, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that this was Howard’s motivation.  But why would he do this?  The only explanation I can come up with was that because Conan was a Weird Tales character, either Howard had an agreement with Farnsworth Wright not to try to sell a Conan story to another market (I’m unaware of any such agreement) or he felt that do sell a Conan story to another market would, in a sense, be dishonorable.  It was standard practice in the pulp days for an author’s character(s) to only appear in one magazine.Howard may have been abiding by that practice.

On the other hand, it could be that “Frost-Giant” is the rewrite.  The passage quoted above, the one with the place names, tends to disrupt the flow of the story.  Certainly, its prose is more purple than the same passage without the travelogue.  It could very well be, since as far as I know the exact composition date of either version of the story is unknown, that Howard was already working out the geography of the Hyborian kingdoms and simply hadn’t settled on a final name and nationality of his principle character.  I will be the first to admit that the evidence isn’t conclusive either way, but this is the interpretation I favor.  I’m sure if there’s information I’ve overlooked, Howard fandom will let me know about it.  Quickly.

There’s one other thing I want to address.  Wagner says Wright rejected “Frost-Giant” because it was too racy.  Considering the sexual imagery in some of C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith stories (another topic for another day), not to mention the sex implicit in some of the other Conan tales, I’m not sure I buy this line.  If Wright was that uptight, why did he publish some of those Margaret Brundage covers?  (I know, I know, racy covers on pulps had nothing to do with the contents.)  Wagner says Wright’s view of Conan was of “a noble barbarian out to perform deeds of chivalrous heroism.”  Again, Wagner doesn’t provide details to back this position up.  In fact, Wright’s rejection of the story, which Wagner quotes, simply says Wright didn’t care for the story and gives no reasons as to why he didn’t care for it.  The general consensus I’ve heard for years on this point was that Wright didn’t like the hero attempting to commit rape.

But is this what Conan/Amra really does?  In the interest of stirring up trouble taking a deeper interpretation of the story, let’s look closely at what happens, shall we?  Atali taunts Conan.  “Spreading her arms wide, she swayed before him, her golden head lolling sensuously, her scintillant eyes half shadowed beneath their long silken lashes.  ‘Am I not beautiful, oh man?’ ”  Sounds to me she’s trying to entice him to pursue her.  This is born out at the end of the story, when the old man Gorm tells Conan Atali lures men to their deaths.  Gorm also describes her as beautiful and naked.  Atali continues to taunt Conan, essentially daring him to follow her.  Conan’s reaction is described as a madness that sweeps away his pain and fatigue.  Howard makes the pursuit sound as though Conan were possessed.

Rather than trying to commit rape, I read the story as Conan being put under a spell of desire by Atali.  Only Conan is stronger than she bargains for.  When he kills her brothers, she realizes she can’t control him nor reverse the spell.  Otherwise, why would she have to call on Ymir for help?  Am I saying Atali was asking for it?  You bet.  Even a casual reading of the story would tend to show that was the case.  What I’m NOT saying is that every (or even any) attempted rape victim was asking for it, so please don’t read that into my remarks.  I don’t consider what Conan/Amra does here to be attempted rape because I don’t interpret his actions as being of his own free will.  This is a fictional story, a fantasy, in which an evil woman’s spell goes wrong and she can’t control the desires she has deliberately cultivated in a man, with the outcome being other than what she intended.  I don’t for a minute think that’s how the real world works, and in spite of some of Howard’s detractors, I don’t think Bob meant that here either.  I think he was telling an entertaining story in the best way he could with a character whose personality he was still developing and exploring.  And in that, he succeeded.

So, to sum up.  I think “Frost-Giant” is probably a rewrite of “Frost King”, and furthermore Conan has gotten a bad rap these many years, accused by some critics of attempting a crime of his own free will when in truth he had no choice about.  Those are my thoughts on this cold winter night.

Blogging Kull: Exile of Atlantis

Kull:  Exile of Atlantis
Robert E. Howard
Illustrated by Justin Sweet
Del Rey
Trade Paperback, 319 p., $15.95

It’s been a while since I read any of the Kull stories.  I think the last time I read one was when I was an undergraduate, but I may have been in graduate school.  (We’ve talked about that memory and age thing before.  At least I think we have.  I seem to recall we did.)  Why it’s taken me so long to get back to these stories, I’m not entirely sure.  Other demands on my reading time, mostly, including other Robert E. Howard works I hadn’t read.

Anyhoo, in the intervening years since I last read Kull, I’ve grown and (hopefully) matured.  So I thought I’d take a fresh look at these tales.  In some circles, Kull is often thought of as a prototype Conan, an opinion that’s only reinforced by the fact that the first Conan story was a rewrite of an unsold Kull tale.  But is that really so?  Howard, in spite of his critics, was quite adept at characterization.  I’m not sure I buy that idea, even though I have to admit that when I was much younger, I did pick up on the similarities between the two characters more than their differences.  It’s time to take a fresh look.  Over the next half year or so, I’ll be examining them in some detail.  I’m using the Del Rey edition with the story fragments and synopses, even though I own a copy of the Subterranean slipcased edition.  That edition is out of print and probably beyond the budget of many people.  The stories are the same in both volumes.

Oh, and these posts about Kull will contain spoilers.  So if you haven’t read the story (or stories) under discussion, you might want to keep that in mind.  You have been notified.

Howard began thirteen Kull stories between 1926 and 1930, and he completed ten of them before moving on to other characters.  Of those ten, only three saw publication in his lifetime, and one of those is a Bran Mak Morn story in which Kull is brought forward in time to play a major role.  The first story in the book is an untitled story that was published under the title “Exile of Atlantis” in 1967 in the Lancer paperback King Kull.  Not counting the full page illustration facing the first page of text, it’s only seven pages long, and that includes the illustrations on six pages.

The storyline is simple.  Kull, Gor-na, and his son Am-ra are talking over dinner at their wilderness camp.  What they’re doing in the wilderness, we’re never told.  The whole discussion centers around Kull’s disdain for some of the tribal traditions.  It seems he’s been adopted into Gor-na’s tribe, which is the Sea Mountain tribe.  Kull doesn’t know who his tribe is.  Rather he “was a hairless ape roaming in the woods” who “could not speak the language of men.”  If that sounds a little like Mowgli from Kipling’s Jungle Books, it shouldn’t surprise you that Kipling was one of the writers who influenced Howard.  We aren’t given any details of how Kull came to live with the Sea Mountain tribe or how he learned to speak.

The talk then turns to the troubles Atlantis has had with Valusia and the Seven Empires.  Kull isn’t as impressed with them as Gor-na is.  He even expresses a desire to one day see Valusia.  Gor-na tells him if he does, it will be as a slave.  There is also mention made of Lemurian pirates causing trouble.  After some further discussion, the men get some sleep.  During the night, Kull has a dream in which he is hailed as a king by a large crowd.

The next morning the men return to the tribe’s caves to discover a young woman is to be burned at the stake for the crime of marrying a Lemurian pirate.  The only person who seems to show some sympathy is Am-ra, whose “strange blue eyes were sad and compassionate.”  Even the  girl’s mother screams for her death.  Kull thinks this punishment is a bit much, but he isn’t in a position to rescue her.  The best he can do is offer her a quick death rather than a slow painful one.  He catches her eye and touches the hilt of his flint dagger.  She gives him a small nod, and he throws the dagger, piercing her heart.

The enraged mob, cheated of their vengeance, turns on Kull, who has already begun to climb the cliff next to the village and escape.  He is saved from being hit by an arrow when Am-ra bumps the archer’s arm.

And that’s all there is to this story.  It might not look like a lot, but it seems to me the point here is to establish a little bit of Kull’s backstory and define his character.  In this Howard is successful.  Kull is a man who is not afraid, either of battle or of asking unpopular questions.  He does the right thing as he sees it, even when he’s the only one willing to take a stand.  In this story, doing so costs him his home.  We know from the foreshadowing in the dream that Kull will one day see Valusia, not as a traveler but as its king.

While the action in the story is not at the level of what many readers expect from Howard, the noble barbarian is there.  Remember, this was years before a certain Cimmerian made his way through the kingdoms of the Hyborian Age.  Howard was beginning to develop the themes he would return to again and which would occupy a great deal of his thoughts.  To return to certain themes over a period of time, developing and perfecting them, is not an uncommon thing for an author to do.

I don’t know when this story was written.  I seem to recall someone (I want to say Rusty Burke) had put together a timeline of the known composition dates and best estimates of the rest of Howard’s work, but I can’t find it online.  Maybe my mind is playing tricks on me.  In his afterward “Atlantean Genesis”, Patrice Louinet states it was either between July 1925 and January 1926 or between August and September 1926.  Whether the story was ever submitted for publication is unknown. This would make it one of the earliest stories Howard wrote in his career.

What I did find interesting is that Kull seems to have grown out of an abortive series of stories and poems about Am-ra of the Ta-an.  These consist of two poems (one only five lines long) plus three fragments.  All are included in this book.  In a letter now lost, but quoted by Alvin Earl Perry in A Biographical Sketch of Robert E. Howard (1935), Howard talks about a story in which a minor character takes over.  “Exile of Atlantis” is the only story we know of that fits this description.

None of these things should be surprising.  It has been well documented that Howard would sometimes reuse names from earlier stories, sometimes altering them slightly, sometimes not.  Even a certain Cimmerian was known as Amra for a while in his wanderings.  An interesting side note to this point, Amra of Akbitana appears in “The Frost King’s Daughter”, which was published in the March 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan under the title “Gods of the North” and later rewritten as the Conan story “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter”, the second in the Conan series. 

Or to put it this way, what we are seeing with “Exile of Atlantis” is Howard stretching himself as a writer.  The events of the story may be dismissed as minor by the casual reader, but to do so would be a mistake.  I maintain that this is an important tale, especially if it was the first Kull story written, which it seems to be.  “Exile of Atlantis”  is an example of Howard beginning to stretch himself and warm up, to use an track analogy, before beginning to sprint and hit his stride with his later works.

The Fantasy Fan

Over at the REHupa and REH:  Two Gun Racontuer sites, Damon Sasser recently made an announcement about Lance Thingmaker’s publication of the entire run of The Fantasy Fan in facsimile.  This was one of the earliest fanzines, running for 18 issues from September 1933 to February 1935.  The list of contributors reads like a Who’s Who of fantasy from the heydey of Weird Tales.  People like Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Forrest J. Ackerman.  The editor, Charles D. Hornig was a high school student at the time.  His work on The Fantasy Fan caught the attention of Hugo Gernsback, who hired him to edit the pulp Wonder Stories.  Eric Lief Davin published two interviews with Hornig in Pioneers of Wonder (Prometheus Books,1999 ).

Damon quotes from Lance’s introduction, so I won’t repeat that here.  My copy came a couple of days ago, so instead I’ll talk about the book itself.  Original copies of the zine were scanned and have been reprinted as they appeared, with only minor touch-ups to improve legibility.  All the typos and errors are still in place.  The binding is hand-sewn.  This is clearly a labor of love. 

It’s a common practice of libraries to collect runs of periodicals and have them bound in hardcover.  The bindings are usually plain, with simple lettering.  That’s the effect here, except the result looks much better than the typical library binding.  I know partly because I’m looking at two examples on the shelf as I’m writing this:  Unknown October 1941-April 1943 and Astounding Stories January-November 1932.  (Yes, some of the old pulps did manage to make it into library bindings.)

So, what’s it like to read old copies of one of the most influential fanzines of all time?  Well, I can’t rightly say because I haven’t read the thing.  It just arrived a couple of days ago, and I’ve been swamped this week.  I have perused it, however.  This is not a book I’m going to rush through.  It’s one I’m going to savor.  Robert E. Howard’s “God’s of the North” was first published here.  (This was a rewrite of “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”, an early Conan storied that had been rejected by Farnsworth Wright.).  Lovecraft’s Supernatural Horror in Literature is here as well.  Poetry by Lovecraft and Smith.  Fueds in the letter columns by names you would recognize, such as Ackerman.  Columns by Julius Schwartz and Mort Weisinger.  A cornucopia of great stuff.

If you’re interested in Robert E. Howard, or H. P. Lovecraft, or Clark Ashton Smith, or Robert Bloch, or the history of early fandom, then this is probably the must-have book of the year.  The book is limited to 200 copies and only costs fifty-five bucks, including shipping.  A bargain at twice the price (no, Lance, that doesn’t mean I’m going to send you more money), I can’t imagine this one staying in stock long. If I were you, I wouldn’t wait for Santa to bring one.  That might be too late.

There’s no web page for The Fantasy Fan, but you can order it directly from Lance Thingmaker.  Just send him a email.  You’ll be glad you did.